Rolling Stone Retracts Article About Gang Rape at University of Virginia; Author Apologizes

The opening pages of the Rolling Stone article, which was published in November.
The opening pages of the Rolling Stone article, which was published in November.

Rolling Stone magazine retracted its article about a brutal gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity after the release of a report on Sunday that concluded the widely discredited piece was the result of failures at every stage of the process.

The report, published by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and commissioned by Rolling Stone, said the magazine failed to engage in “basic, even routine journalistic practice” to verify details of the ordeal that the magazine’s source, identified only as Jackie, described to the article’s author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely.

On Sunday, Ms. Erdely, in her first extensive comments since the article was cast into doubt, apologized to Rolling Stone’s readers, her colleagues and “any victims of sexual assault who may feel fearful as a result of my article.”

In an interview discussing Columbia’s findings, Jann S. Wenner, the publisher of Rolling Stone, acknowledged the piece’s flaws but said that it represented an isolated and unusual episode and that Ms. Erdely would continue to write for the magazine. The problems with the article started with its source, Mr. Wenner said. He described her as “a really expert fabulist storyteller” who managed to manipulate the magazine’s journalism process. When asked to clarify, he said that he was not trying to blame Jackie, “but obviously there is something here that is untruthful, and something sits at her doorstep.”

The Columbia report cataloged a series of errors at Rolling Stone, finding that the magazine could have avoided trouble with the article if certain basic “reporting pathways” had been followed. Written by Steve Coll, the Columbia journalism school’s dean; Sheila Coronel, the dean of academic affairs; and Derek Kravitz, a postgraduate research scholar at the university, the report, at nearly 13,000 words, is longer than the 9,000-word article, “A Rape on Campus.”

After its publication last November, the article stoked a national conversation about sexual assault on college campuses and roiled the university.

The police in Charlottesville, Va., said last month they had “exhausted all investigative leads” and found “no substantive basis” to support the article’s depiction of the assault. Jackie did not cooperate with the police and declined to be interviewed for the Columbia report. She also declined, through her lawyer, Palma Pustilnik, to be interviewed for this article. She is no longer in touch with some of the advocates who first brought her to the attention of Rolling Stone, said Emily Renda, a rape survivor working on sexual assault issues at the University of Virginia.

In a statement responding to the report, the University of Virginia’s president, Teresa A. Sullivan, described the article as irresponsible journalism that “unjustly damaged the reputations of many innocent individuals and the University of Virginia.”

Mr. Wenner said Will Dana, the magazine’s managing editor, and the editor of the article, Sean Woods, would keep their jobs.

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